"The world is a possibility if only you'll discover it."
- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Many weekend afternoons in L.A. find me at a favorite local diner right down the street. Several weekends back, my wife and I were sitting at a table in the diner's front window. As it's on a major street, a number of people walk by the tables out on the sidewalk, folks of all stripes and sizes. Observing from the window can be a cool study in the hodgepodge of L.A. On this day, the only occupied table on the sidewalk had two young men sitting at it chatting.
One of the passersby stopped for a moment at these gents' table, a homeless man. The owner of the cafe saw this, and though he's nice, didn't want someone panhandling his clientele. By the time the owner got the door open, one of the young men at the table stopped him.
See, the guys at the table had actually invited the homeless man to come and have breakfast with them. I was a little floored. I couldn't help but watch from the corner of my eye, as an interaction that started off a little stilted between the three men ended up with some good laughter attached to what appeared to be great conversation. I was touched to the point of a lump in my throat, and rumor has it that some hack with a big nose and his hottie wife may have bought the meals of both tables and snuck off before anyone was the wiser.
Sometimes, you just want to be a part of something bigger.
This past Sunday afternoon with my wife out of town, I was sitting solo at that same café's counter while embroiled in Andrew Feinstein's exceptional piece on the first NBA Africa game, and felt like a very small part of something bigger. Andy captured so much of what it felt like to see, work in, and be a part of a multi-year effort to bring the NBA game to the African continent, and to witness the hope and wonder it brought to kids at every level of learning the game, with some graduates of past camps already participating in the NBA-level Team Africa vs. Team World challenge. A close game with a huge and vocal crowd. The energy was palpable throughout the evening, a reminder of the things we take for granted in a game we get to see all the time.
How amazing. I could not be more proud (or jealous) of Andy's trip. If it was as impactful as it sounded to be, it's a life changer, and if you missed the article, make sure and check the link above.
A little over a year ago, I posited some theories as to why the NBA could be a credible threat to become the number one sport in America in the next decade or two. I now wonder now if basketball could not actually be the predominant sport globally for the same reasons. Small roster sizes, reasonable season lengths, playable indoors or out, cheap equipment, small court size, massive TV contracts, and anyone between 5'3" and 7'6" has a chance to play. People from all corners of the globe now play Dr. Naismith's creation. Futbol, watch your back.
Watching the Africa game on my DVR and seeing the responses of the crowd, especially for heroes Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon, you realized the hope that these players have offered to generations of Africans. Mutombo, Olajuwon, and so many others have also been active in sharing their wealth with their country in the form of modernization and infrastructure donations and fundraising. Mutombo and his foundation built a hospital in his hometown of Kinshasa and named it after his mother. A part of something bigger. Hope for people who have so little to hope for.
As to appeal, it doesn't take much to see that the game's popularity translates widely across the globe in other countries where players of rare NBA origin like Jeremy Lin or Yao Ming inspired millions of their countrymen's support. It's also easy to see that former Denver Nuggets forward Eduardo Najera is still adored by so many of his fellow citizens of Mexico. The NBA seems primed to take its game to a global level. It's too bad the NFL has never thought to expand globally. Oh, wait...
Sunday's game had so many special moments for Nuggets faithful in particular, and I wanted to call a few out, even though you've seen most of them throughout the Stiffs pages:
Deke Takes the Stage:
When Mutombo came rumbling onto the floor in his old-school rainbow jersey, the crowd went nuts. Deke got a couple of trademark finger wags into the game, and looked like a sight for sore eyes in number 55. Mutombo spent most of the game laughing with the younger guys on the floor, and he had a couple of friendly chats with Kenneth Faried while waiting on free throw shots. Friendly right up to the point of the shot, anyway, when Dikembe buried one of those still-pointy elbows into the Manimal's chest.
I especially enjoyed that Mutombo chose his Nuggets jersey for the evening. Deke was only with Denver for five of his 18 seasons. He was in more All-Star games during his time with Atlanta (4) than Denver (3), he went to the Finals with Philly, was a four-time Defensive Player of the Year (only one of which was in Denver), and still Dikembe chooses the skyline. That makes me this happy.
The Manimal takes Flight:
Faried got one of the biggest "Oooooooh"s of the game with a soaring jam amongst a nine point, 15 minute night. Faried expressed a change in himself to Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post. Spurred by the events of this trip, his thoughts after spending time in a local African village filled with children ecstatic to meet the pro players:
" ... they are just happy with being able to have clean water and a roof over their heads and shoes to walk in. So that was amazing in itself, and I'm at a loss for words for all of that. I couldn't do nothing but smile all day and be happy because these kids make you feel happy about life. And I'm just so blessed to have these kids show me a side of me that I never knew existed."
Andrew Feinstein Makes a Difference:
I cannot honestly describe all that Andy did on his African trip, because as is his usual wont, he prefers to have the focus on the events be on the bigger picture, but here's what I do know... I know he was so busy as to write that tremendous article during a long plane flight, as he'd been so busy assisting with the other efforts as to not have time to write. And last I knew, he was still in Africa. You're a good egg, Andrew Feinstein. What you did on that trip, and the people it touched is remarkable.
Ujiri Realizes a Dream:
Masai Ujiri, former Nuggets GM, has been a driving force in getting this game to occur. Ujiri and the Basketball Without Borders program have been working with players in Africa for over a decade now, with former campers now in the league, and enough African players to form a 10-man squad. The moment was seminal for the game in Africa in a lot of ways, and a guy still dear to Nuggets hearts (Ujiri) was crucial in making that happen. Kudos, Masai.
Could basketball eventually become the world's game? What is the impact of this trip on the players who participated? How beautiful was Deke in the skyline? How cool was that happening AFTER Emmanuel Mudiay wore the same jersey at Summer League? How long could Olajuwon and Mutombo play a game of one-on-one? Ten minutes? How bright is the global future of the NBA and/or your Denver Nuggets?